Ralphie May, the comedian of Last Comic Standing, Netflix and Comedy Central fame, met New Orleans' genre-mashing brass band The Soul Rebels in February during a shared bill at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
From their dressing room, The Soul Rebels watched May's act from its first to last minute.
"It was awesome," trombonist Big Paul Robertson says. "He's hilarious and full of life, just like us."
After May finished his 9:30 Club set, the comedian, a Soul Rebels fan, visited the band members in their dressing room.
"I hit them with Hall & Oates' 'I Can't Go for That,'" May says. "They were like, 'Yo. Why don't you come up and sing that with us? That's one of our jams.'"
May gave The Soul Rebels an awesome introduction and then, despite smoking a lot of marijuana earlier that night, returned during the band's show to sing "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)."
"Ralphie can sing very well," Robertson says. "We pulled it out and it was magic."
"I got into the music, having fun," May says. "Then I took my shirt off. The Soul Rebels laughed their butts off."
"Actually, that night, we were like, 'We need to bring this to New Orleans,'" Robertson says. "Ralphie was like, 'Yeah, most definitely. We've got to put something together, some day.'"
That day is Friday. May and The Soul Rebels are presenting a double bill of music and comedy at Tipitina's.
"It's so much fun to do something with a group of talented musicians who are so welcoming," May says. "They're like, 'Hey, man. You're funny and you love brass.' When that Soul Rebels brass hits you, it makes people move and shake and wanna do bigger, better things. It's so cool, daddy."
May loves The Soul Rebels in part because he played sousaphone and bass in a high school soul and rhythm-and-blues band. He also lived in New Orleans in the mid-1990s, when he worked as a cook at Emeril Lagasse's NOLA and lived a few doors down from the Degas House in Faubourg St. John.
"I was instantly inducted into New Orleans," May says. "Everybody I met said, 'Come to my mama's house.' And everybody's related in New Orleans. White, black or brown, just come on down."
But the city didn't help May's comedy career. In this music town, the comedy gigs he got tended to be short, low-paying sets during band breaks. May realized if he was going to make it in comedy, he needed to leave.
"The women in New Orleans are beautiful, the music is wonderful, the food is amazing," he says. "It's too intoxicating! It was like, 'Lord, Jesus. If I don't get out, I'm going to be here my whole life!' New Orleans has a way of taking something you think is temporary and making it real long."
So May returned to Houston, then a comedy club hub that offered aspiring comics much opportunity to cultivate their skills.
"That switch from New Orleans to Houston made me into the comedian I am," he said. "But I tell you what — for good times, man, there was never anything better than what I was getting in New Orleans. That was the most fun, Jack."